August 2018 Letter to Denison Faculty and Staff
by

Adam Weinberg

August 14, 2018
Students walking on chapel walk

Dear Colleagues: As has been our tradition, I am writing at the opening of the academic year to update you on the college. This letter is sent annually to all faculty and staff. I also want to invite you to attend the State of the College Forums that we will hold on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Please send me any topics that you want me to cover. If you cannot make these forums, but have interest in them, please let Nancy Berg know. We may schedule another one in early September.

Financial Health: It remains a challenging time for higher education, with many colleges facing enrollment shortfalls, small endowments, increasing deferred maintenance on facilities, and other challenges. This is particularly true for private, Midwestern liberal arts colleges. We are fortunate that Denison is in a very different place:

  • Strong student enrollments: Our applications continue to grow. After being flat for a decade, our applications are up from 4,898 in 2014 to 8,042 last year. During the same period, early decision applications are up from 231 to 506 students. All of this means that our acceptance rate has decreased from 51 percent to 34 percent. Academic quality and diversity also remain strong. In the Appendix, you’ll find a chart with enrollment data as well as other metrics of interest. Our current admission metrics are very positive.
  • A large and growing endowment: The endowment continues to grow. On June 30, it stood at $843 million, compared to $789 million the same time last year, and $723 million in 2016. While the endowment cannot be spent, its investment earnings are income for the college. Hence, the size of our endowment gives us a strong financial foundation for our work as educators.
  • Fundraising Campaign: We are well on our way to completing the largest fundraising campaign in the college’s history. To date, we have raised slightly over $157 million. Our goal is to raise $225 million by June 2020. We continue to run ahead of our goals.

We are doing well, but we also cannot afford to be complacent. I continue to worry about student enrollment. By May 1 of this year, 23 of the 27 nationally known Midwestern Liberal Arts Colleges we track had missed their student enrollment numbers. Fortunately, Denison is not in this group. However, it included some well-respected liberal arts colleges. We need to continue to stay focused on student enrollment. While our endowment is substantial and a significant financial resource for the college, the largest source of our revenue, 60 percent, comes from student tuition, room, board and fees.

Why We are Doing Well: From my perspective, our success is due to a few factors. I will provide more detail and talk in more length at the State of the College Forums about these, but they include Denison’s long-standing reputation for providing a strong liberal arts education. In particular, we are especially well known for certain attributes of a great liberal arts education that appear to be growing in importance to prospective students and families. For many families, we also are a more affordable option than other private colleges. I also believe the strategic plan responded to the interests, needs and anxieties of prospective students and families in ways that have caught the attention of college counselors and other influencers. Finally, I would note that we are working hard to tell the Denison story in visible and proactive ways. This is significantly helped by generations of alumni and current students who are great ambassadors for the college.

The Strategic Direction: In May 2015, the Board approved a strategic plan that is designed to enhance student learning in ways that strengthen student recruitment and retention while also preparing our students to compete for top jobs, training programs and graduate schools. 

  • Curriculum Expansion has included:
    • New academic programs- Majors in Global Commerce, Data Analytics, and Health, Exercise and Sport Studies and concentrations in Narrative Journalism, Financial Economics, and most recently, Middle East and North African Studies. Student interest is strong and driving stronger student enrollment. For example, 23 percent of our incoming class expressed interest in one of these new programs when asked what they plan to study. Of course, this will change when they arrive on campus and start taking classes. Students will distribute more evenly across the curriculum, which is good. But, this is an indicator the new programs are helping strengthen student enrollment.
    • Advising Circles- This fall, 75 percent of our incoming students will be in an Advising Circle. We will conduct a formal assessment of the program this year. We had planned to do one last year, but the relaunch of Residence Life as ResComm, and other initiatives, slowed this work. We should have data to report by January.
    • Global Programs- We are doing a lot of work in this area, though this is still a work in progress. We launched Denison Seminars, courses that often have a travel component, most often taught by two members of the faculty. We also piloted and had success with some short-term summer travel programs last year and again this summer. The Office of Off-Campus Study is also working with departments and enhancing offerings for “study away” opportunities.
    • The Arts- Our goal is to make Denison a top liberal arts college for arts-oriented students who do not want a conservatory education. We have huge strengths in our academic departments and a long tradition of student-run arts organizations. To better support and enhance this work, we are focused on construction of the Eisner Center and continuing support of the Denison Art Space in Newark; using a Mellon Grant to explore ways to infuse the campus with the arts; funding longer term residencies with artists and performers like Available Light Theatre Company and ETHEL; and working to support the ongoing work of our academic departments.
  • The Knowlton Center continues to develop in ways that are consistent with our liberal arts mission and good for our students. The Knowlton Center has moved beyond career services, which is about getting students a job, toward a focus on career exploration, which we define as getting our students to ask deeper and more reflective questions: What kind of a life do I want to live? How do careers and professions fit into those lives? And how do I use my time at Denison to develop the skills, values, habits, experiences and networks to get started? The Knowlton Center embraces a liberal arts approach to career exploration.

    The Knowlton Center staff are focused on seven core programs which can be found on the Knowlton Center website. We are continuing to assess staffing needs, and fundraising to support increased staffing continues to go well.

  • Co-Curricular Innovation focuses on three areas:
    • Diversity and social inclusion: One of Denison’s great attributes is the growing diversity of our student community. We have students who bring a wide range of experiences, views and practices to campus. This also challenges us to create a campus where every student finds support to pursue their educational goals and where they feel valued, respected, and welcomed. Student Development has been, and will continue to be, focused on community wellbeing and on fostering opportunities for students to work across difference to learn from each other. This work is happening in lots of places and ways, but I want to draw your attention to the work being done through ResComm to rethink residential halls as places where every student learns the skills, values and habits of living and working effectively across difference.
    • Wellness and integrative health: Another major focus is on wellness, especially as it relates to mental health. We are moving to a more integrative approach to wellness. This is an approach we have been developing over the last few years that recognizes students as complex individuals with physical, spiritual, cultural, emotional and financial needs. Our professional staff in Whisler are working to develop a holistic plan of care to help students achieve and maintain an optimal state of health.
    • The RED Frame Lab: This has become a hub in Slayter for students who want to use design thinking to focus on problem-solving. The goal is to extend what students are learning in the classroom to everything, from campus problem solving, to launching entrepreneurial initiatives. The Lab is focused on workshops, one-on-one coaching and other efforts, including a new effort called The RED Corps Fellows, who will be focused on engaging students as co-designers of spaces on campus related to a master plan for residential halls and the new wellness center (see below).
  • Professional Development for faculty and staff: The Center for Learning and Teaching, the Lisska Center and the Provost’s Office continue to run programs designed to support our faculty as teacher-scholars. At the same time, we also are focused on staff professional development. I am pleased we are doing more of this work. Many of you participated in some of the trainings that Jill Campen, a performance coach, did last year. I also want to recognize and express thanks for the work of the Engagement Communications Committee that has become an important staff-driven group helping us engage, communicate and work on making sure everyone at Denison has a great work environment. This ongoing work is important.
  • Institutional Visibility: We relaunched the Denison Magazine. This is a major effort to better educate and engage our alumni and families. We also continue to evolve the website. As I mentioned last year, we have been working in about a dozen targeted cities around the country to develop Regional Advisory Boards of alumni and parents who are helping raise our visibility with high schools and college counselors, employers and graduate programs, mentoring organizations and other key influencers. Denison has a great reputation, but our visibility has not been as good as it needs to be. This is changing.

The strategic work builds on a strong foundation: For generations, we have provided students with a fantastic liberal arts academic experience, strong mentorship, and a robust campus life. In particular, I believe Denison deserves to be known as a college where students arrive and quickly get acclimated, make friends, find faculty and staff mentors, get engaged academically and involved on campus in ways that help them explore current interests while developing new ones. We also deserve to be known as a college where these things happen in ways that lead to tremendous personal development, which means that our students are ready to launch when they graduate.

In other words, I believe we are a college that does an outstanding job of unlocking the potential of our students to be the architects of their lives. And I believe we are doing a lot of work across campus right now to do this even better, especially for a much more diverse student community.

Issues for This Year: I want to draw your attention to a variety of issues that are likely to be talked about on campus this year. I will discuss these in some more detail at the State of the College Forums.

  • Residence Hall Updates: we are working on a master plan to update every residence hall over the next four to seven summers. We will be engaging students heavily in the development of these plans.
  • Whisler: we are working on architectural plans to build a new integrative health center. We should have draft drawings and plans to share by late October. Whisler will then be converted to offices. Our goal is to free up space on the A Quad for expansion of academic departments.
  • Columbus Region: we continue to do a lot of work to better connect to the larger Columbus Metropolitan Region. This includes work in downtown Newark and efforts to think anew about ways to connect our students and faculty to Columbus. One issue we are working on is transportation for students. We will be piloting some new approaches this year.
  • Campus Issues: our areas of focus will continue to be on issues of diversity and social inclusion, sexual respect and student wellness. We’re doing a lot of work in these areas, and there will always be more that we can and should do. This is ongoing, and important, work.
  • International Students: the incoming class will be close to 17 percent international students from 26 countries. This is up from 12 percent last year. This is very exciting, and it will challenge us to support our international students in a variety of ways. For example, we will focus the first-year class more on forging relationships and friendships across difference. For me, the incoming class creates a “moment in time” to do some things differently that will be healthy for the entire community.
  • Financial Focus: retaining our financial health depends upon maintaining strong student enrollment, successful fundraising, and effective use of our resources. We need more cross-organizational conversations to make sure we are using our financial resources wisely and that we are using people’s time well.
  • Fundraising: As noted, the fundraising campaign is going well. But the last part of the campaign will be the hardest, as we seek new donors to help us to finish the largest campaign in the college’s history. I also want to note the importance of the Annual Fund, which provides support for our annual budget. Thank you to everybody who contributed to the Annual Fund and/or who helped with donors. This is a campus-wide effort.

There is obviously a lot more to say about these topics. I mention them because you are going to hear more about them as we get into the academic year. If you have interest in any of these topics, please let me know.

Quick word on summer construction: We are making good progress on The A Quad, which should be done by mid-October. The Eisner Center is moving along at a good pace. A huge thank you to the Facilities Team for all the hard work done this summer. Thank you! Connected to this project, Monomoy is being painted (a big project). There was a lot of rot in the wood on Monomoy. We are taking the time needed to address this issue and preserve the building. The Office of Alumni & Family Engagement will move there when the painting slows down. The space between Monomoy Place and the Eisner Center will be landscaped into a performance and reception space next summer. Anne and I have moved across the street into 131 West Broadway to make room for new uses for Monomoy. Here is the notice that Board Chair John Faraci sent out about the purchase.

Reaccreditation: We are 18 months away from our comprehensive evaluation by our accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission. We will need everyone to be familiar with the process and ready to help as needed as we prepare for our evaluation and site visit, February 3-4, 2020. You’ll be hearing more about this process from our re-accreditation team (Joyce Meredith, Cathy Dollard, and Julie Tucker) in the coming months. Please work with that team in providing information as needed and let them know if you have any questions.

A Final Word: Denison is a great college because of the work you do. Thank you. We are doing well in a remarkably challenging environment. We owe a lot of this success to our staff and faculty. Thank you for being so committed to the college and to our students.

Sincerely,

Adam S. Weinberg

President

Appendix: Some Metrics of Interests

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

Total On-Campus Enrollment

2,136

2,151

2,166

2,186

2,180

2,219

Student-Faculty Ratio

9:1

9:1

9:1

9:1

9:1

9:1

First-Year Retention

89%

89%

88%

89%

91%

91%

Multicultural Students

33%

36%

31%

32%

35%

40%

Students from Ohio

24%

21%

26%

22%

20%

18%

Pell-Eligible Students

18%

20%

20%

18%

23%

19%

First Generation Students

14%

19%

17%

17%

20%

20%

Classes Larger Than 30 Students

1%

1%

1%

1%

1%

1%

Alumni On-Boarded by Fifth Year

-

96%

93%

95%

95%

-

Endowment

$693m

$785m

$811m

$723m

$789m

$843m

Read more of Adam Weinberg's speeches and writings.